CPA Exam Pass Rates

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Do you aspire to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)? Every CPA candidate is well aware of how hard it is to pass the CPA Exam. The CPA Exam pass rate exemplifies the rigors one must go through to successfully pass the exam. In fact, it is considered to be one of the hardest professional exams. Thus, It requires many hours of study, regular practice, and the utmost dedication to score well in the exam.

In 2021, the cumulative CPA exam pass rate averaged between 45%-63% across the four sections of the exam. The overall pass rate of the CPA exam was 54%.

The four sections of the CPA Exam and their corresponding pass rates are indicated below:

2021 CPA Exam Pass Rates



CPA Exam Pass Rates by Year

The cumulative pass rate of the CPA Exam is around 50% for the last three years. The years 2019, 2020, and 2021 have shown an improvement in the pass rates among all sections of the CPA Exam. According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), 2020 saw some of the highest pass rates in the last 10 years even though the lowest number of candidates sat for the CPA Exam due to the pandemic.

The above pass rates provide a brief idea about the CPA exam success rates over time with some insight on which exams are consistently difficult to pass versus easier to pass. BEC has the highest passing record while FAR has been consistently the lowest passing rate.

Considering FAR as the toughest exam section, many students prepare for it first, ignoring the other sections. But choosing to study for the most difficult or the easiest section first may not always be the most beneficial approach. As you consider your study schedule for the 2022 CPA Exam and the section you want to complete first, be sure to consider the time that each section will require to successfully pass the first time. FAR might require a larger amount of study material to cover while BEC might have the least amount of material to learn. Dividing your time to study both the sections with equal importance with an effective study routine will help you a lot.

CPA Exam Pass Rates By Section

Auditing & Attestation (AUD) CPA Exam Pass Rates

In 2021, the AUD section of the CPA Exam had the second-lowest pass rate among the four sections of the CPA exam. While the material within the Auditing Exam contains very fundamental concepts, students allege that the questions on the exam are confusing, mainly because there could be more than one correct answer to each problem. While the AUD Exam is more theory-based in its questions, FAR, REG, and BEC require more memorization from students.

Business Environment & Concepts (BEC) CPA Exam Pass Rates

You can safely say that BEC is the most liked section among candidates when it comes to scoring. It has the least amount of material and is typically more easy to understand. Historically, the average pass rate of BEC is the highest among all four exam sections. One explanation for the higher BEC pass rates could be that candidates generally choose to sit for this section of the exam last, narrowing the pool of candidates to those who have already successfully passed the other parts of the exam.

Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR) CPA Exam Pass Rates

Candidates we’ve surveyed tend to say that Financial Accounting and Reporting is the most difficult section of the CPA Exam. It has the lowest passing rate out of the four sections consistently for a long time. This is likely due to the large volume of information in the FAR section, along with the need to fully understand the concepts involved, instead of simply using memorization. FAR is a comprehensive section that deals with financial management, government accounting, fund accounting, etc.

Regulation (REG) CPA Exam Pass Rates

Students find the Regulation portion of the CPA Exam to be difficult to study due to the sheer amount of non-accounting information covered in the exam, as it incorporates tax law and business law. It has the second-highest pass rate after BEC.

The growing success rate of the CPA Exam does not fully depend on the exam’s difficulty level. Success on the exam is dependent upon the preparedness of the CPA candidate, including the study material used, how their time was managed, and how much support they received throughout their CPA journey.

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CPA Exam Pass Rates by Age and Graduation Date

It may sound surprising but the CPA exam pass rate is partially influenced by the age of the candidates as well as when they graduated. According to NASBA 2019 CPA Exam Test Results, recent graduates score a lot better than older graduates. The highest pass rates are those younger than 22 at 68.4%. Candidates aged 35 and older had the lowest pass rate of 37.1%. Among them, the male candidate pass rate is 39.3% and for the females, the pass rate stands at 35.7%. The average pass rate difference between recent grads versus candidates who graduated a few years ago is almost 20%.

Does It Matter When You Graduated?

According to our CPA experts, candidates who graduated years ago are further removed from past study habits and accounting materials. Therefore, it might take extra effort on their part to get back into a regular study routine. Conversely, CPA candidates who recently graduated might find it easier to jump into preparing for the CPA Exam and have better memory recall of certain accounting concepts.

However, it is important to note that age difference does not mean that older candidates shouldn’t sit for the CPA Exam. Data-driven study technology, impactful study material, and proper time management will help any aged candidate pass the CPA Exam.

Why Are CPA Exam Pass Rates Higher In Q2 And Q3?

CPA exam pass rates depend on a lot of factors which include the difficulty level of the exam, and the preparedness of the candidates. However, when exactly you sit for the exam can largely influence your scores. 

Q1 is an exceptionally busy season for tax accountants and working professionals, who might find it difficult to maintain a balance between studies and work. You must also consider the fact that Q1 comes right after the Q4 holiday season. The Q4 associated holidays and the recovery of those holidays could possibly affect the study schedules for many CPA candidates. Therefore, these two quarters have relatively less pass rates.  

 Q2 is typically the time that college graduates are preparing to graduate from their academic institutions. They are in a study mind-set, so Q2 candidates usually score well on the exam. Q3 allows candidates the entire summer to study for the exam. So, the passing rates of Q3 have been consistently high for years. This is a major reason why Q2 & Q3 have higher pass rates and are the best time to sit for the CPA exam.

CPA Exam Pass Rates by University

The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) releases reports on the top universities that have accounting programs. The report also contains the average CPA exam pass rates by these top universities based on the first-time candidates. Here is the list of top 10 programs with the highest CPA Exam Pass Rates:
Accounting Programs at Top 10 Universities 2021 CPA Exam Pass Rate
University of Texas at Austin 89.5%
Brigham Young University 89.4%
Wake Forest University 88.8%
Boston College 88.3%
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 88.2%
University of Florida 86.4%
University of Virginia 84.8%
Texas A&M University 82.9%
University of Wisconsin-Madison 82.9%

Why Is the CPA Exam So Hard?

The CPA Exam is considered by many CPA candidates as very difficult to pass. The reason the CPA Exam is considered so challenging is because of the complexity of topics covered in the four sections of the exam. Each section of the exam has several question types and topics that cover a variety of accounting concepts. Answering the questions correctly requires critical thinking and higher-order skills — similar to what is required of newly-licensed CPAs (nlCPAs).

Your CPA exam score will also depend on your study schedule and amount of preparation. In addition, the AICPA updates the CPA Exam every few years that candidates need to keep up with. AICPA has recently revised the CPA Exam Blueprints, which went into effect July 1, 2021. Candidates preparing for 2022 CPA exams should be aware of the changes within the blueprints as a way to start preparing for any changes to the CPA Exam.

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FAQs

CPA exam scoring is not curved. Candidates need to score 75 points in each section of the exam to pass.
Don’t let the pass rate discourage you.. To successfully pass the exams on the first try, all you need to do is follow a structured study plan and prioritize studying. Also, consider working with a quality CPA review course provider to achieve a good score. 

Read more about the CPA Exam

Get all the information you need to know about CPA Exam scoring, pass rates, and how the AICPA calculates the passing score.

Find out when AICPA posts CPA Exam score release dates so candidates will know when they can expect to receive their scores.

The UWorld Roger CPA Review study guides incorporate the full course syllabus and can be customized to account for your study habits. This study guide is a great way to prioritize your studying to pass the CPA Exam faster.

Get all the information you need about the CPA Exam’s format, structure, and content for each exam section.

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